Never before has there been a Government so favourably disposed towards safeguarding the genuine interests of Military personnel, veterans and matters of national security.
The announcement of the government decision by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on September 5 to implement the long outstanding OROP demand of the Ex-servicemen (ESM) has ended the 42 year long struggle by Ex-Servicemen. The ESM – a term that includes all pensioners, war widows, war wounded and disabled veterans of the Army, Navy and Air Force, are largely happy and thankful to the Prime Minister for fulfilling his oft repeated commitment to implement the concept of OROP. At the same time some are feeling insidiously cheated by the bureaucrats who have deftly twisted the political intentions and decisions. Military pensioners eloquently acknowledge the sincerity of the Modi Sarkar in addressing the issue. The cordiality with which they have been able to interact with the Defence Minister and senior officials at the PMO has underscored their faith and pride in the political leadership that had become almost extinct during the long spell of Congress-UPA regimes. Never before has there been a Government so favourably disposed towards safeguarding the genuine interests of Military personnel, veterans and matters of national security. The government resolve to implement OROP in letter and spirit has, however, been muddled in its details – and that is what has angered the ESM who smell a rat in the fine print of the government press release released on September 5. The agitating ESM feels that the written word subtly deviates from the candour and sincerity displayed by the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. They also have a suspicion of some crafty brains at work in the backrooms of ministers which highlights the widening gulf in civil-military relationship. Therefore, it is necessary to have a balanced assessment of the decision and implications of the same.
The Issues of Contention
The ‘VRS’ Mischief: The last minute insertion of voluntary retirement scheme’ (VRS) has angered the ESM community most. This issue had never figured during discussions between the ESM leaders and the Government which were frequent and spanned over three months. There is no such thing as ‘VRS’ in military service and wherever applicable in Civil Services, it is a one-time package settlement given to the employee concerned – a ‘scheme’ which is alien to military personnel. Unlike civilian employees, military personnel do seek ‘pre-mature retirement (PMR) but that is only after the concerned Officer/ JCO/OR has earned ‘pensionable service’. Such cases are already appropriately covered within the accepted definition of OROP which stipulates ‘length of service’ as a criterion to determine pension. Denying OROP benefits to VRS/PMR categories is, therefore, utterly illogical and arbitrary. PM’s assurance on this issue should settle this matter once and for all.
The 5-year Equalisation Plan: ESM argues that the government decision to ‘equalise military pensions once in five years’ defeats the very concept of OROP. In the modern era of automated computing in banks and offices, there should be no problems in devising an appropriate software and applying the formulae to equalize pensions every year or even earlier without hassles. Hopefully, the One-man Committee ordered by the government shall resolve this tangle in the spirit of the OROP definition – “same pension for same rank, same length of service irrespective of date of retirement.”
Average of Maximum and Minimum: Lt Gen Balbir Singh (retd), President, Indian Ex-Services League who represented the United Front of Ex-servicemen (UFESM) along with Maj Gen Satbir Singh (retd), in negotiating the OROP settlement with the Government, says, “Year 2013-14 was accepted by us as the Base Year for the initial equalisation with the understanding that the top of the pension scales as they existed on 31 Mar 2014 would be applied. But the government press release now says that the Base Year would be ‘calendar year 2013’ and the ‘equalisation’ would be based on the ‘average of maximum and minimum’ of that year. This is not acceptable for the veterans.
The Fallacy of ‘Unbearable’ Financial Burden
Baseless stories have been hyped expressing fears of the mounting pension budget going beyond affordability limits of the government if OROP as promised by the Prime Minister is implemented. Initial pay-out of OROP including arrears earlier assumed to take effect from April 1, 2014 stood at Rs 8,294 crore. Yet, arbitrary figures ranging from Rs 10,000 crore to 22,000 crore have been irresponsibly but quite frequently have been allowed to float in the media. It is therefore necessary to clear public confusion by explaining the existing defence pension budget and the OROP effect on it which is explained in the table.
For every successive year the enhanced OROP share will decline until it becomes zero in the fifth year. No doubt, the overall pension budget shall increase but it will be grossly wrong to attribute the existing ratio of annual increase to the OROP effect which shall be reducing every year becoming nearly zero in the fifth year after OROP implementation. The 6th Pay Commission had resorted to ‘bunching’ the service seniority of military personnel in different trades for the purpose of fixing their pay scales in respective pay band. Thanks to this ‘bunching effect’, the enhanced proportion of OROP will diminish rather than escalate every year.
Civil-military relationship has been a cause of concern for long now. The widening trust deficit must be checked and concerted efforts are most urgently required to be made to restore and build up a healthy trustworthy working environment in the MoD by integrating and inducting military expertise in the Baboodom of the ministry. Such a reorientation needed resolute, dynamic leadership which is now available in Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is heading a strong government at the centre after a long time.
Long ago, Chanakya had advised Chandragupta Maurya, “While the citizenry of the State contributes to see that the State prospers and flourishes, the soldier guarantees it continues to EXIST as a State. To this man, O Rajadhiraja, you owe a debt: please, therefore, see to it, on your own, that the soldier continuously gets his dues in every form and respect, be they his needs or his wants for he is not likely to ask for them himself.” By addressing the soldiers’ concerns on parity, Modi government has followed the Chanakya Niti for ensuring security of the nation.
Karan Kharb (The writer is a Defence Analyst
and Retired Army Officer)